Trucking lawyer decries ‘junk’ evidence

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Trucking companies need to do a better job keeping irrelevant evidence or “junk” evidence out of liability trials, a top trucking lawyer told attendees at the CCJ Spring Symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., sponsored by Randall-Reilly Publishing.

Michael Langford, an attorney with Scopelitis, Garvin, Light and Hanson, told attendees Wednesday, June 7 that plaintiffs’ attorneys often get evidence into accident trials that is irrelevant and should be inadmissible. “If you allow this evidence to creep into a case, you could have a skunk in the jury box,” Langford said.

Such evidence includes:

  • Information about the size, earning capacity, revenues, profits and wealth of the carrier;
  • Safe-Stat scores; and
  • Driver and company character information, such as driving records, unrelated accidents and criminal background.
  • Some expert testimony also is suspect, especially opinions about how truck drivers would or should perceive a given situation, Langford said. Often, such opinions come from “people formerly involved in the trucking industry passing themselves off as experts,” he said.

    Even traditional experts, such as law enforcement personnel, often offer personal feelings about accident causation, which Langford says should be impermissible because they lack personal knowledge of the accident and surrounding circumstances. That testimony can be highly prejudicial.

    “Identify stuff that’s nothing more than junk, and keep it out of the case,” Langford said. In preparing a case, carriers should evaluate three principal questions:

  • Who was at fault?
  • Were there injuries or damages?
  • What are the damages based on the injuries sustained?
  • “Sometimes, plaintiffs don’t like the answer to those questions,” Langford said. “Their client was at fault, the injury was a 20-year-old back injury, or damages shouldn’t be that strong. What do you do if you don’t like those answers? You try to bring in a lot of other stuff that will be dressed up as relevant. That’s junk evidence.”